It’s hard to take projections from industry analysts seriously. If you believed some of their projections, Windows Phone would soon overtaking the iOS as the second most popular mobile platform on the planet. And, of course, Apple would be relegated to near-irrelevance once again except for a few million diehards who loved to pay more for pretty things. I haven’t begun to consider the recent purchase of Beats Electronics for $3 billion, which has loads of detractors, but you get the picture.
Indeed when current surveys disagree by big percentages — so Apple has negative Mac sales growth in one and positive Mac sales growth in another — it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Yet a lot of big corporations pay these alleged industry analysts the big bucks to deliver this nonsense, so I wonder if I’m not in the wrong profession. I know nothing about industry analysis, but I surely can do better than these fools. It’s not that you have to pass a state exam to hang out an industry analyst shingle.
So in the spirit of observing the incompetents once again, I took note of two reports. One suggests that tablets will take over from traditional PCs come next year, while another suggests that Microsoft’s Windows growth curve will resume, mostly because businesses were forced kicking and screaming to upgrade because Windows XP is no longer supported.
Now I understand the “serves ’em right” factor, which is that a business depending on a nearly 13-year-old OS should have known better. You can include the IRS on that list, since they were recently forced to pay for extra support for missing the XP deadline, claiming it would cost some $30 million to upgrade everything to Windows 7. Considering the USA’s tax collectors are under budget constraints, maybe that’s understandable, but private companies are in the same boat.
So the theory goes that there will be a rush to upgrade to a newer version of Windows, and you can be assured businesses will by and large avoid the Windows 8 disaster. But it’s also true that Windows 7 is a far more reliable place to be, so it makes sense that IT people will choose that alternative, although it might also require buying new PCs to deal with heftier system needs. That’s what the PC industry is depending upon, of course, since it creates the potential for perhaps hundreds of millions of sales. But it’s also possible they’ll cobble together some upgrades for the older PC boxes to continue to work efficiently with the new OS. We’ll have to see.
Certainly Microsoft’s long-delayed decision to give up on Windows XP seems perfectly sensible from a profit-and-loss standpoint both for them and the PC industry. But it’s also true that some companies, who are already embracing a “bring your own device” philosophy, may just buy Macs instead. Or they will choose iPads, which dominate the business world. Neither step augers well for PC makers, but if Microsoft can sell new Office 365 subscriptions or regular user licenses for Office as a result, that’s a good thing. After all, it costs less to support their software on Apple’s platforms.
But the Windows upgrade cycle, if it does restore growth to the industry, will surely be temporary. Once companies have rushed to ditch XP, kicking and screaming of course, the sales will die down. And it’s an open question how many Windows users will simply give up on the platform for good.
Meanwhile, it remains an open question whether Microsoft can devise a long-term solution to this dilemma. The new Surface 3 is basically being marketed as just another slim and light PC, in the spirit of an Ultrabook. It has a touchscreen, but is not the same as an iPad or Android tablet. Indeed, it’s a refashioned throwback to the original Windows tablet scheme, that of a note-book with a touchscreen that worked mostly with a stylus. Indeed, our former family doctor used one of those devices, a big clumsy thing that actually slowed down the process of gathering and recording patient information. Well, at least the Surface 3 is smaller.
Microsoft’s biggest dilemma is what to do about the next major Windows upgrade, which one assumes will be Windows 9. Will it continue in the spirit of the interface formerly known as Metro, or continue the migration back to the desktop interface? If the latter, how will touchscreens be dealt with? Indeed, Microsoft has yet to release a touch-savvy version of Office, even though there’s a perfectly good one already available for iPad. Of course, they started the iPad version from scratch, rather than depend on the baggage of the past.
By evidently discontinuing the ARM-based versions of Surface, Microsoft is giving up on a market of hundreds of millions of devices. Whether iPad sales are flat or have resumed the growth curve the last quarter or this one, it’s still true that combined sales in that space are in the tens of millions per quarter when you factor in Android and Amazon’s modified Android gear. Does Microsoft expect you to abandon your passion for tablets and return to a Windows convertible? Hardly likely.
So maybe the surveys are right. Maybe Windows PCs will grow a tad next year. But it may not signal a long-term trend, which doesn’t auger so well for the industry unless there’s a huge strategic change. And I haven’t considered the remote possibilities that customers will embrace the PC anew.